The latest dig at Romney's religion came from Mike Huckabee (of course), as reported by the NY Times:
Romney, a Mormon, had promised that he would be addressing the subject of his religion a few days later. I asked Huckabee, who describes himself as the only Republican candidate with a degree in theology, if he considered Mormonism a cult or a religion. ‘‘I think it’s a religion,’’ he said. ‘‘I really don’t know much about it.’’
I was about to jot down this piece of boilerplate when Huckabee surprised me with a question of his own: ‘‘Don’t Mormons,’’ he asked in an innocent voice, ‘‘believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?’’
You know what they say about making your bed....
If you're going to say that religion is important in politics, then be ready for people to talk about that religion.
A large part of America's religious pluralism is the divide between public and private life; you can believe whatever you want, just keep it from affecting your job. Since the 70's, though, Republicans and Christian conservatives have sought to break down that barrier, making religious fealty a de facto requirement for high office.
Mitt Romney waded into this water last week when he gave a major speech where he promised to govern religiously and do what he could to oppose secularism, the very concept that helped him become a Mormon governor in a state with a very small Mormon population.
Mike Huckabee has his own spiritual skeletons in his closet, and, as noted by this article from Mother Jones, he's refusing to release his sermons from when he was a Baptist minister, even though he's pretty much running on an "I'm holier than thou" message. Something tells me that he wasn't as, how shall I put this, polished on the subjects of homosexuality and women's equality as he is now.
Well, that, or maybe his sermons were just boring and put people to sleep. Scandal!
Compare this to two other high-ranking Mormon politicians currently and previously on the national stage: Harry Reid and George Romney. Was anyone talking about Reid's Mormonism when he became Senate majority leader and, simultaneously, one of the most powerful Democrats in the country?
And George, Mitt's father, was the governor of Michigan back in the 60's and ran for the GOP nomination in 1968. But his Mormonism wasn't important like Mitt's is today:
"I don't recall ever having been asked about his beliefs or about the Mormon church," says Charles Harmon, the elder Romney's press secretary at the time. Walter DeVries, Romney's chief strategist during the race, never considered his boss's religion a political liability. "I just don't remember it coming up," he notes.
And considering how the question had nothing to do with illegal acts by the White House, I don't think that DeVries is suffering from a case of "Republican Memory Syndrome."
This waffling back and forth on the importance of religion is mostly about controlling one's message, wanting the positive effect of being seen as having integrity and character because one is a "man of faith", but not wanting people to examine just how silly some of your religious principles sound when taken outside of the context of the Church or the church house.
Theological issues in Mormonism were enough to send Lawrence O'Donnell into a tizzy last weekend on "The McLaughlin Group": Mormonism's racist! And founded by a (statutory) rapist! He forgets, of course, how Lot offered up his unmarried daughters to be raped by the city of Sodom or how Protestant Christianity was explicitly used to justify slavery. But details, details.
O'Donnell does have his support in people like Ryan Davis, who asks why Romney never questioned his religion's officially racist stance that Blacks could not be ordained (which changed some years after his mission in 1978). Good question... I mean, we wouldn't want a president who belongs to a religion that promoted intolerance, right?
Then why aren't we asking Hillary Clinton and John Edwards about their Methodism, a branch of Protestantism that declares homosexuality "incompatible with Christian teaching", pretty much the same sin of exclusion that O'Donnell was accusing the LDS Church of?
What about Rudy Giuliani's and Bill Richardson's Catholicism? When it comes to sexual exploitation, historical racism, and the exclusion of minorities, both sexual and racial (at least when it comes to the Church's most powerful position), the LDS Church has nothing on the Catholic Church.
And what about John McCain's flip-flopping between the Episcopal and Baptist churches? If he can't stand up for one religion, then how will he stand up for one country? (Oh, I think I have him there!)
My point is not that we should be dragging ourselves into a theological debate on the candidates' religions, but that we should instead examine how those religious beliefs inform their politics. It's easy to say that Harry Reid's and Mitt Romney's religion is silly, but, then again, it somehow produced those two, just as Catholicism effects the politics of both Richardson and Giuliani, and Methodism both Edwards and Clinton.
That said, I find it hard to have any sympathy Romney after his recent speech on religion. There isn't freedom without religion? Fine, but just as we have to define "freedom" for that statement to work, we also have to define "religion".
And I still want to see Huck's sermons. What if he was one of those cool preachers known for more than just playing bass and losing weight, but also telling dirty jokes in his sermons?